Parenting is not for the faint-hearted. In fact, even the strongest barely make it out alive. And, finally, even medical journals have recognised that.
Parental burnout is characterised by a state of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion. It leaves parents feeling chronically fatigued, often experiencing sleep and concentration problems, and it can lead to depression, chronic anxiety and illnesses. There really is no quick fix to something that is so rooted as instinct within us: wanting to be the absolute best parent for our children. However, while chasing this crazy notion of the ‘best’ and ‘perfect’ parent, not only are we burning ourselves out, but we are causing issues for our children too. It is a vicious cycle.
So – get off the bike; let that crash happen without you present. No-one ever said you had to stay on the burnout path.
The most common symptoms of parental burnout are:
- Feeling like you need distance from your children.
- Exhaustion, either physical or mental.
- Using food, drugs or alcohol to cope.
- A short temper or increased conflict within the family.
- Disrupted sleep patterns.
- Anxious feelings, anxiety or panic.
You may be feeling as though you relate to those symptoms, but you also may feel that you see no way out. How is it possible to stop the daily grind of parenting? Well, the first step is to stop seeing this parenting gig as a massive challenge, something that society has deemed fairly impossible. It is almost as though if you are NOT burnt out, you’re judged as then somehow being a lazy parent. If you are not tired and stressed beyond frantic levels of panic, then you must not be doing enough and your children will resent you.
Now read that sentence again. Sounds ridiculous, right?
We have been led to believe that there are four parenting styles. Psychologists have confirmed this and many life coaches preach this. There is nothing wrong with accepting these parenting styles as guidelines of what to do and what not to do, but since when did parents have to conform to a certain one and follow each rule as some type of life journal? For interest’s sake, the four styles are:
- Authoritarian: lots of rules, your way or the highway, ‘because I said so’ mentality.
- Authoritative: sets clear expectations with open communication.
- Permissive: child sets rules and is indulged to avoid conflict.
- Uninvolved: absent, indifferent, no guidance.
Anyone else wondering what happened to ‘Realistic’?
Parenting cannot be defined as one size fits all, because all kids are different. Parents are different too, for that matter, and should be allowed space to make mistakes. While defining a style of parenting that works is different for everyone, the basic principles of avoiding parental burnout are the same. Adopt what you can from the list below, and adapt so that these helpful pieces of advice work for you. Remember, it is your life and your child. You don’t have to prove yourself to anyone else.
Laugh. A Lot.
Keeping a sense of humour really is the only defence strategy at times. Once you learn to stop sweating the small stuff and take things a bit less seriously, it not only allows you to relax, but also lets your child feel at ease. A safe space of understanding happens when you let go of unrealistic expectations and learn to laugh when things are not going perfectly. Take a step back and assess the humour in the situation – you will always find it!
If you need some assistance, do yourself a favour and spend some time Googling Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively’s approach to parenting.
It is so exhausting having to pretend that you are not tired, not stressed or not coping. It makes the burnout even more literal! Be honest – with yourself, your fellow parents and even your children. Nothing stops you from explaining to your child that you are having a crazy week at work and therefore might be a bit snappy. Children need to learn that their parents also experience human problems. You will be amazed at how children respond to honesty. When chatting to other parents, be open about your struggles. You will probably break that barrier of pretence, and before you know it, you’re sharing in a community of support. Knowing that you are not alone, and that others go through exactly the same challenges you do, makes life a lot easier.
Honesty really is the best policy, and the best strategy!
Don’t do for your child what your child can do alone
Your child has to learn to experience life and all that comes with it. If you constantly step in to do something for your child that they are perfectly capable of doing themselves, not only are you robbing them of crucial life skills, but you are exhausting yourself! The only way that your child will learn to be an adult is if you allow them to learn. Helicopter parenting is not going to strengthen your bond, teach your child or make you feel better. Actively take a step back and allow yourself that opportunity to breathe, relax and rest. This includes chores around the house. Your child should have an active role in the running of the household: laundry, dishes, taking out trash, cooking, cleaning. There is no reason why you should do this alone as parents. Your children are not renting your house as an AirBnB, and your exhaustion levels should not be due to ‘hosting’ these little beings.
Alone time is a must
You have to set aside time for yourself every week. Better yet, exercise daily and set that time aside for yourself. You cannot function as a complete parent if you are constantly feeling pulled apart. The only way to function effectively is to grant yourself the space and time to do something for yourself. No matter how hard this sounds, it is imperative. As they say, 90% of parenting is just wondering when you can lie down again. Use the other 10% and carve out time for you to do what fuels you. Your child will be grateful and your boundaries will be a clear example that they can use as they grow and experience their own need for self-care.
Create realistic expectations
In this wonderful age of media and communication, setting realistic expectations has become so difficult. We are bombarded with so much information and so many guidelines. It is extremely overwhelming and just adds more stress to this notion of being the perfect parent. The only perfect parent out there is the one with amazing theories who has not had children yet.
Practise this mantra daily: THERE IS NO PERFECT PARENT. This is also true because there is no perfect child. Stop setting yourself up for failure by expecting crazy things of yourself as a parent, and in turn of your child. Be the best parent that you can be at any given moment. If, at that moment, you make a mistake, learn from it and move on. That’s being the best parent.
Be kind to yourself. You really are doing much better than you think you are. Have you ever stopped and asked yourself, or your child, what actually matters? A safe space of shelter, basic human needs and really, simply, importantly … LOVE.
If you have that sorted, you have reached the final stage and you are the best parent.
Now go rest and spread the word – there is no perfect parent.